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When their schools are near fast-food restaurants, black and Hispanic adolescents are more likely to be overweight and receive less benefit from exercise than Asian or white students, according to a study published in the current issue of Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.
Researchers suggest that the study underscores the importance of understanding how adolescents respond to fast-food availability near school.
“Our study demonstrates that fast food near schools is an environmental influence that has magnified effects on some minority children at lower-income urban schools,” said Brennan Davis, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing at Baylor University, who co-authored the study with Sonya Grier, Ph.D., associate professor of marketing at American University.
Students attending lower-income schools on average have a higher body mass index (BMI) and consume more soda. Likewise, urban schools have students who on average have higher BMI and consume more soda. To put these results in perspective, the study found that for all students, having a fast-food restaurant a mile nearer to school almost entirely cancels the body weight benefits of exercising one day per week. However, for black and Hispanic students in lower-income urban neighborhoods, having a fast-food restaurant a mile nearer to school may cancel the benefits of up to three days of exercise per week.
“The findings imply that it is important to examine the behaviors and contexts associated with low-income and ethnic minority status in urban areas,” said Grier. “These populations not only are the fastest growing but also have the highest rates of obesity, and research is relatively limited.”
According to the study authors, the school environment is, more often than many other settings, one in which adolescents make food choices free from the family structure and parental control and can occur during lunch or before and after school. The study highlights the need to understand local targeted marketing strategies and outcomes according to income, ethnicity, and geographic segmentation. Many of the ethnic groups that are increasing in size and purchasing power, and are increasingly of interest to marketers, are also geographically concentrated.
The current study builds on previous research (American Journal of Public Health, 2009) by Davis and Christopher Carpenter, Ph.D., associate professor of economics and public policy at The Paul Merage School of Business, University of California, Irvine, which found that students with fast-food restaurants within one-half mile of their school consumed fewer servings of fruits and vegetables, consumed more servings of soda, and were more likely to be overweight than were youths whose schools were not near fast-food restaurants.